When your partisan fact-check shows so much hackery your station won’t back you, you really need to calm down.
As the midterm election is damn near upon us, the press is in overdrive covering the candidates, with many delivering fact-checks on claims and campaign ads. On a recent episode of The Lie-Able Sources Podcast, I featured a patently ridiculous example from a New Mexico news station where a local reporter attempted to debunk a GOP attack ad running currently in that state, one concerning Governor Lujan Grisham.
Newsman Ryan Laughlin lived down to his surname in a desperate attempt to bolster the Democrat governor, and he received copious amounts of ridicule for his blatant partisanship. This was such an extreme case of biased reporting that has since moved from being mockable to outright hilarity, as the governor called for action and now his own news station is not standing behind his report.
To begin, we start with the ad that was run by the Republican Governors Association. In the campaign spot, they feature the story of a New Mexico inmate who was released early by the governor and within a week of being sprung tracked down, and murdered an ex-girlfriend with a gun. It is clear the move of painting Grisham as a soft-on-crime leader bothered many, and by appearances, this includes the newsman, Laughlin.
In a news segment looking to debunk the commercial Laughlin runs the political spot, then partway through he stops the tape and steps into frame, pointing out some official state documents appearing for seconds. He references one of these documents, now showing in freeze-frame but having no hope of ever being read by anyone watching the ad. This document is Laughlin’s lynchpin to debunking the commercial.
In the commercial, the voiceover explains that Grisham released the inmate as part of her Covid safety measures. But Laughlin claims to have caught an inaccuracy. It turns out that the inmate was initially released as part of her Covid protocol, but he violated probation and was returned to jail. Then, in 2021, while serving a stretch through November of that year, he was released a second time, and this was when he committed the murder.
Laughlin’s case? The second release was a time-served order from Grisham, but the commercial displayed a document showing the release for the Covid protocol order. See?! It’s completely not 100% accurate, we are led to believe. Here is Laughlin’s initial report he performed in that night.
FACT CHECK: The @GOPGovs just launched this attack ad in New Mexico. While the @GovMLG did release this criminal from prison early and he did kill his ex-girlfriend right after he got out, it did not happen the way the ad portrays. pic.twitter.com/PKOAtPorwo
— Ryan Laughlin (@RyanLaughlinKOB) October 14, 2022
What is perplexing is that seemingly the claim here is that somehow Grisham is not responsible, because the GOP misidentifies the reason the prisoner was released. Not only is his “gotcha” moment the thinnest of technicalities, but in truth what he has done is underscore that the governor not only released this dangerous prisoner but did so repeatedly. The underlying point is not altered – Grisham released this man and he went on to kill as a result. Laughlin even attested to this in his promotion of the segment: While the @GovMLG did release this criminal from prison early and he did kill his ex-girlfriend right after he got out…”
As lame as all of this became, it got better. Or, maybe worse – depending on perspective. As a result of Laughlin’s dutiful “fact-check”, Grisham’s campaign contacted the news station to have them pull the Republican commercial from running, on the basis of its own reporter showing that it was disseminating inaccurate claims.
“KOB must pull this ad from the air immediately given your own admission it is false,” attorney Courtney Weisman of the Washington, D.C.-based Elias Law Group wrote in a letter to the station manager.
Imagine how confident the campaign lawyers must have felt; after all, the station’s own journalist “proved” (ahem) the commercial was filled with disinformation! Well, Marc Elias and his legal team, who are ever busy during election season, should be used to losing their fights by now. As the Governor’s legal lackeys called for the ads to be taken down, the station was not inclined. The KOB Vice President and station manager said after analysis they are not pulling the commercial spots.
We asked for the substantiation from the party that purchased the ad. We spent a great deal of time reviewing that, asked for follow-up materials … and made our decision.”
The Department of Corrections claims the prisoner was released with time served 5 months early due to good behavior. How exactly does this square with a prisoner who had been previously released early, in the fall of 2020, only to be returned for violating his parole? And…it gets better. The controversy led to another campaign commercial, this one from the Democratic Governors Association, and this one had to be debunked as well, by Laughlin, for inaccuracies.
Our report highlighting an inaccuracy in a @GOPGovs attack ad is now getting taken out of context in a different attack ad. A group tied to the @DemGovs clearly misrepresented our work in ad claiming @MarkRonchettiNM is not to be trusted. The @DemGovs never returned my call. pic.twitter.com/k7KXZxJdJO
— Ryan Laughlin (@RyanLaughlinKOB) October 21, 2022
The fact that the station was unwilling to state its own reporter proved this contested ad was inaccurate, and now both parties are charged with misrepresenting facts in campaign ads, is highlighting the farcical nature of this entire sideshow.